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As posted on Can the iPhone 8 avoid the Samsung Galaxy S8’s one big mistake?

Samsung has a winner on its hands. The Samsung Galaxy S8 and its big brother, the S8+, are two exquisite slabs of glass-covered technology. Instantly lust-worthy devices, yet both are nearly upended by one terrible decision.

The fingerprint reader. 

Samsung’s decision to put it on the back next to the camera to make way for the incredible 5.8-inch infinity display is an awful one. It takes an exquisite piece of technology and makes it awkward. Samsung averts disaster by jamming the Galaxy S8 full of biometric options: there’s also facial recognition and an iris scanner. For me, the latter is my go-to unlocking and payment authentication option.

But the fingerprint reader decision weighs on me. It could be spreading.

If reports are true, Apple is considering the same thing. A possible leaked design and months of buzzy rumors point to Apple giving the iPhone 8 an all-screen, button-free face.

One the one hand, this is exactly what we want. If I learned one thing from the Samsung Galaxy S8, it’s that edge-to-edge displays work. 

The problem for Samsung and, potentially, Apple is that display growth is out of sync with the state of the art on fingerprint recognition.

It’s my firm belief that Samsung desperately wanted to hide the fingerprint reader under the display but couldn’t figure out the technology in time for the Galaxy S8 launch. 

Part of the blame for this falls to the Note7. If that seemingly perfect flagship phablet hadn’t blown up, maybe Samsung would have had time to figure out a transparent, under the glass fingerprint reader. But they needed a winner. Now.

So, the S8 fingerprint reader ended up on the back right next to the camera and with such a similar design that it’s easy to mistake the two spots, at least when feeling blindly for the reader while staring at the screen.

The problem for Samsung and, potentially, Apple is that display growth is out of sync with the state of the art on fingerprint recognition.

Even with the terrible fingerprint reader location, the Samsung Galaxy S8 is that winner. But I don’t know if Apple fans will be so forgiving.

In the “leaked” design being passed about, the Apple iPhone 8 chassis features a perfect circle cut out right below the Apple logo, which appears to have shifted north at least one centimeter on the phone. That circle is the possible new home for Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint reader.

As you would expect, people are already judging the design of a product that’s not announced and may never look like this anyway. However, if I were Apple I would pay close attention.

Let’s assume for a moment that this is real.  In that case, Apple, in its quest to build its own infinity display, has discovered the same technical limitation as Samsung. You still can’t hide the fingerprint reader under the screen — at least not yet.

Even though Apple has more time to develop the iPhone 8 than Samsung did for the Galaxy S8, they don’t have an infinite amount of time. The 10-year anniversary of the first iPhone is fast approaching. The next iPhone must ship this year, not next.

By early summer, Apple will lock in the iPhone 8 design. If they haven’t solved the Touch ID/fingerprint button issue by then, that leaked design idea could become reality.

At least Apple is, apparently, not making the same mistake as Samsung and putting the reader in an equally awkward spot.

In my Samsung Galaxy S8 review I wondered why Samsung didn’t put the fingerprint reader much lower on the smartphone back. One friend described feeling like his hand had to climb the phone to find the reader.

Apple’s possible design puts the spot far away from any other defining feature on the phone. This could make it a lot easier to find by feel. Even so, dead center in the back of my iPhone 7 is not exactly where my index finger normally rests.

There remains the strong possibility that these “leaked” designs are dead wrong, red herrings cast about by Apple to confuse us. They’re aware of our appetite for rumors and may feed them with misinformation, though we’ve learned from experience that many leaks are quite real.

I still believe the next iPhone will be special, with new designs, materials and a significant wow factor. People will love it, Apple will sell millions, but if that fingerprint reader is on the back, Apple will also get dragged for not innovating enough and Samsung will grin knowingly and say, “We feel ya.”

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